Wednesday Book Review: Soccer in Sun and Shadow

Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Translated by Mark Fried. New York and London: Verso, 2003.

Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano writes an engaging, entertaining memoir of his life-long love affair with soccer. Along the way, he treats the reader to several excellent anecdotes and more than a few surprising number. His thesis, such as it is, is to explain why soccer is important, in the grand scheme of things, and how the sport brings people together. He cannot resist as few potshots at both FIFA and UEFA for excluding the Americas, Africa, and Asia (though that changed, to a small degree, in 1994, which he notes. The book, of course, was published seven years ago so it cannot take into account the 2010 World Cup in South Africa).

Galeano has an informal style of writing that lends itself to the book’s structure, which is a series of small one to five page chapters. Each chapter has a theme that highlights a particularly important point in soccer’s history. Soccer as religion is a particularly important theme throughout, as players and fans pray, coaches invoke God or the Virgin Mary (p. 65-67), and priests bless home pitches for good luck. Of course, that also leads to people placing curses on rival teams (p. 62). From the real to the absurd, Galeano has an excellent feel for why soccer is important not only to Latin Americans (and Uruguayans) but also the world.

To his credit, Galeano avoids connecting soccer to class, as so many authors do, while simultaneously noting the joie de vivre that some teams have and others don’t. That, he writes, has more to do with culture than with class. It’s like comparing the grim machinations of today’s Chelsea or Manchester United side with the unadulterated joy of FC Barcelona. Soccer, Galeano believes, should be enjoyed because if it’s not, it becomes nothing more than a business. And that’s his point: soccer wasn’t always a multi-billion dollar business and now that it is, that doesn’t mean that all the joy needs to be sucked out of it. Soccer in Sun and Shadow is a love letter to the game itself, which is a joyful experience despite the best efforts of those who see it in purely economic terms.


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